There are many substances that are not ‘true’ parchment, but are referred to as parchment. The most common, perhaps, is the paper used in cooking. Real parchment, however, is made from animal skins, usually calf, goat or sheep which first undergoes a process of liming, rinsing and scraping to remove the hair. It is then stretched onto a wooden frame, scraped some more, and dried taut (as seen in the image above). The surface can then be further refined through pumicing and applying chalk or other compounds to create a smooth, white surface that can take ink on both sides.
By the 4th century CE scribes began using parchment instead of papyrus as a writing surface because of this advantage and others, such as its durability and flexibility. Another advantage over papyrus is that parchment can be scraped for reuse or to erase mistakes, as in the case of a palimpsest.
In addition to being used as a writing surface, less refined parchment was used as covering material for codices, and was occasionally dyed bright colors through soaking in pigments such as brazilwood, cochineal and buckthorn (see Leather and Parchment Samples). To learn more about the history and making of parchment, see Parchment, Selected Bibliography and External Links.